COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – State lawmakers are taking aim at a practice employed by a central Ohio catalytic converter thief, a stalker in Akron and other tech-savvy accused criminals: using an AirTag to maliciously monitor someone’s every move.
A Senate committee on Tuesday will reconsider a measure that would prohibit the installation of a tracking app or device like an AirTag on another person or their property without their consent, according to bill sponsors Sens. Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood).
“Obviously, technology can be a great thing for convenience, for safety, but it can also be a dangerous thing, and that’s what we’re seeing with these tracking devices,” Manning told fellow legislators earlier this month.
Reintroduced after failing to muster through last year’s General Assembly, Senate Bill 100 would establish the use of tracking devices for menacing or stalking purposes as its own offense under Ohio law – a move that the bill’s sponsors say closes a loophole in current state statutes.
The measure’s revival comes about one year after nationwide reports of unwanted tracking via AirTags were addressed by the tech’s creator, Apple, who designed the pocket-sized tracking device as a way for customers to find belongings like wallets and keys.
But an Akron woman’s harrowing discovery, first reported by a Cleveland television station, that her ex-partner plastered an Apple AirTag to the bottom of her car to track her location prompted lawmakers to crack down on the practice.
“You can see how easy it is to just slip it into someone’s pocket or purse or other items of clothing without their knowledge,” Antonio said, displaying an AirTag before her colleagues.
While investigating one of the largest catalytic converter theft rings in central Ohio, Groveport Police Department Det. Josh Gilbert said it was discovered that the now-convicted suspect, 42-year-old Tommy Cox, used the Apple device in his pursuit of more than 1,100 catalytic converters across several counties.
Once Cox swiped a catalytic converter, he would reportedly attach an AirTag to the bottom of the same vehicle, track its movement and return once the car’s owner replaced the part, Gilbert said, continuing a theft cycle that generated at least $430,000 in profits.
Attorney General Dave Yost, who sued Apple in 2020 over accusations of iPhone throttling, gave the bill his stamp of approval last year, testifying to lawmakers about its potential to thwart people from using the $30 tracking devices for “nefarious purposes.”
Yost also applauded the bill’s sponsors for creating the unlawful use of a tracking device as its own criminal offense, as other criminal offenses surrounding stalking and menacing have yet to consider the “advent of new technologies,” he said.
“Because prosecuting a stalking charge typically requires demonstrating a pattern of behavior, tagging a vehicle without the owner’s permission can prove to be a difficult case to charge under current law,” Yost said.
A first-degree misdemeanor, those convicted of the offense outlined in Senate Bill 100 would be punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine, Manning said.
After receiving reports of unwanted tracking, Apple updated its software in February 2022 to alert people if an unknown accessory, like an AirTag not owned by them, is being used in the vicinity. Each AirTag is marked with a serial number to help law enforcement prosecute their illegal use.
“AirTag was designed to help people locate their personal belongings, not to track people or another person’s property, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms any malicious use of our products,” the company said in a statement.
Senate Bill 100, similar to state Rep. Tom Patton’s legislation in the House, awaits further consideration in the General Assembly.